"Planning for Eldercare" Articles

Vitamins and Mineral Supplements Are Important for Older People

April 7, 2010

Research has discovered that as we age, our diets and our need for dietary supplements become more.  Doctors are increasingly concerned about boosting the levels of vitamins and minerals that we need as we grow older. 

As most people get older, they tend to eat less due to a loss of appetite.  As a result, many elderly individuals do not take in adequate amounts of vitamins and other nutrients as they did when they were younger.  Other factors that can affect appetite and the inadequate uptake of vital nutrients are medications, medical complications, certain disabilities, diabetes, changes in the digestive system and even the changes in our skin as we age.  One study estimates that one-third of the elderly are alarmingly low on important vitamins and minerals.  Another study indicates that two thirds of the elderly patients admitted to a hospital are mal-nourished, resulting in low levels of vital nutrients.  When a person is vitamin and mineral deficient, he or she is more susceptible to illness and infections.  It is estimated that deaths due to infections are ten times more likely in the elderly.

Vitamins
So what is a vitamin and why is it so essential to our bodies?  A vitamin is a molecule that our bodies need to carry out certain biological functions.  With only a few exceptions, we have no way to create vitamin molecules ourselves, so these vital building blocks must come in through food that we eat.  The human body is known to need at least 13 different vitamins.  We are able to store some of these for long periods of time in fat cells or in the liver -- such as vitamin A -- but most vitamins need to be replenished frequently. 
 
Vitamins don't supply us with energy.  We need protein, carbohydrates, and fats for that.  What vitamins do is to help the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins release energy.  These vital compounds are very important and they are required for all sorts of complex chemical reactions in our bodies.  Vitamins are also needed to assist the enzymes that repair tissue and help with the production of cells.  Many studies show that vitamins and minerals can help or prevent some of the disorders or diseases related to aging. 
 
There are two types of vitamins -- water soluble and fat soluble.  Water soluble vitamins are not stored in our systems.  They pass through us quickly.  In order to keep these nutrients in our bodies we have to consume them frequently.  Water soluble vitamins contribute to our health, energy and stamina.  This type of vitamin also helps in the function of over one hundred enzymes and chemical reactions that give our bodies energy.   Listed below are some of the well known water soluble vitamins and their benefits.

  • Vitamin B5 – good for reducing swelling
  • Vitamin B3 – reduces tissue swelling and helps increase blood flow.
  • Vitamin B6 – also reduces swelling.  When combined with vitamin B12 in proper concentration has shown to reduce heart disease.
  • Vitamin B12 – This is the most vital of the B's.   It aids in the formation of cells, myelin production, healthy nerves, and maintaining immune system and mental function.
  • Vitamin C – Vitamin C helps in the formation of cartilage and bone.  Some studies have shown it may reduce the progression of osteoarthritis.

Fat soluble vitamins are vitamins that stay in the body and are typically stored in the liver.  You can usually receive enough of these compounds by eating a well balanced diet.   Any condition that can interfere with the absorption of fat in the body like tuberculosis, cystic fibrosis, hypothyroidism, lactose intolerance, and many other diseases or disorders can cause deficiencies in these vitamins.  Before taking the daily recommended dose of fat soluble vitamins you must consult your doctor.  Overdosage of these substances can cause a toxic build-up.  Listed below are the major fat soluble vitamins.

  • Vitamin A – Lungs, throat and mouth depend on vitamin A to retain moisture.   This compound is also important for your skin, bones, teeth, digestive system, urinary tract, eyes and aids in preventing skin disorders like acne, boils, and bumpy skin.  Some studies show that it may aid in slowing the aging process.
  • Vitamin K – plays an important role in the clotting of blood.  Research has linked vitamin K to bone health.
  • Vitamin D – is produced in the skin by exposure to the sun.  Deficiencies mostly occur in people living in northern latitudes where daylight is brief during winter months.  Changes in skin as we age can also cause poor production of vitamin D.   Studies show that  osteoporosis might progress faster in women with low levels of vitamin D.  This compound is essential in helping the body absorb calcium and in maintaining strong bones.

Minerals
Unlike vitamins, minerals are not manufactured by plants or animals.  Minerals form in the earth, and are absorbed by plants and found in animals that eat the plants.  Listed below are some of the essential minerals needed to maintain a healthy body.

  • Iron – helps carry oxygen throughout the body.  Iron also helps the immune system ward off foreign entities.
  • Calcium – Most women as they get older need calcium supplements to prevent bone loss that causes osteoporosis.  Calcium supplements will not do you any good if you do not have the right levels of vitamin D.  your body cannot absorb calcium without vitamin D.
  • Zinc – Zinc deficiencies can affect skin, nerves, and the body’s immune system.

It is important that you take vitamin and mineral supplements with food.  Fat soluble vitamins require fat ingestion to result in the best absorption.  It is best to take your supplements at the biggest meal of the day. 

We use vitamins every day to support the processes our bodies use to maintain life.  Ongoing reduced levels of vitamins can make you weak and more vulnerable to disease.  Proper nutrition with vitamins and minerals is vital for seniors to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Other health issues related to aging are discussed on the National Care Planning Council website at www.longtermcarelink.net.